The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s “St. John Passion” this Friday night and Saturday night in authentic early music style

April 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians (below), which specializes in authentic period performances of early music, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” this coming Friday  and Saturday nights, both at 7:30 p.m., in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

On both nights at 6:45 p.m., MBM founder and music director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a free pre-concert lecture on the “Structure and Performance History of the St. John Passion.” In his remarks, Stephenson said he will discuss the question of anti-Semitism in the famous work.

(NOTE: Stephenson and some of the players will also be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland TODAY at noon.)

At the end of Part I, the Rev. Michael Schuler of the Unitarian Society will give a talk focusing on “Theological Reflections on Bach and the St. John Passion.”

This is only the second time the work has been performed in historical style in the state of Wisconsin. For more information and explanation, see the story in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/st-john-passion-to-be-performed-on-all-historical-period/article_0e6e3d51-c03e-5803-9230-faed6a48ed1d.html

Tickets are $28-$33 and are available online, at Orange Tree Imports and at the door. Ticket information is at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Trevor Stephenson writes the following about the work and the performance:

Bach was 38 years old when he composed the monumental St. John Passion during his initial year of employment in Leipzig, 1723-24. The work was first performed at the Nikolai Church during the Good Friday service on April 7, 1724.

As was the custom, no concerted music had been played in church during the previous six weeks of Lent, and the airing of the St. John Passion ― music of unprecedented complexity, lasting for over two hours — must have had an overwhelming effect on the fresh ears and devoted souls of the parishioners.

From its outset—with the whirling gear-like figures in the strings beneath the moiling of the oboes—the St. John Passion has an otherworldly aura of a story that has been foretold. Bach’s genius is in how he balances this inevitability with a sense of forward dramatic thrust: the passion story must happen, has already happened, but it also must be played out in real-time by living people, step by painful step. Time is at once both linear and circular. (Below is the manuscript for the “St. John Passion.”)

I believe that the objective of Bach (below) in setting the St. John Passion was to tell as vividly as possible the story of Jesus’ cruel earthly demise while at the same time tempering this vividness with frequent textual reminders, as well as an overarching tone, that convey the firm belief that Jesus’ Passion had not only been prophesied long before his birth but that Jesus’ suffering and death on earth was the only solution for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins.

 

The Evangelist John is our guide for the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. John sings his narration in the dry and angular recitative style, addressing the audience directly. He summarizes some scenes and introduces others, which are then played out in present-tense tableau format by various characters: Jesus, Peter, Pilate, Court officers, the angry mob.

Bach uses two techniques to pause and comment upon the narrative: first, with arias for solo voices and instrumental obbligato, that employ freely-composed poetry to reflect upon the story in a personal way — like the thoughts of someone observing the action; and second, by chorales which use tunes and texts that would have been familiar to Bach’s parishioners to elicit a broader communal response to the passion story. Many of the chorales are like a spiritual balm, providing moments of much needed rest throughout the work.

For the upcoming April 14 and 15 concerts of the St. John Passion on Good Friday and Holy Saturday ― the Madison Bach Musicians has endeavored as much as possible to recreate the early 18th-century sound world of that first Leipzig performance in 1724. MBM will use a 17-member baroque orchestra, conducted by UW-Madison bassoonist and performance-practice specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill).

The orchestra will play entirely on 18th-century style instruments:

  • Gut-strung violins, violas, cellos, and bass played with baroque bows which facilitate articulation and phrase grouping
  • Early 18th-century single-keyed wooden traverso flutes and single-keyed wooden oboes―uniquely warm-sounding and clear-toned. Plus the baroque ancestor of the modern English horn, the tenor oboe da caccia
  • A baroque chamber organ with wooden pipes tuned in 18th-century Well Temperament
  • And specialty instruments—even by 18th-century standards. The viola da gamba, featured during the tombeau– or tomb-like Es ist vollbracht (It is fulfilled) aria heard after Jesus’ death; and two violas d’amore, delicate and velvet toned, replete with sympathetic strings for a haunting after-glow of sound. (You can hear that aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These instruments will join with 10 outstanding vocalists—specialists in singing both solo and choral baroque repertoire.

Internationally recognized, and Grammy Award winning tenor, Dann Coakwell (below, in a photo by Mary Gordon) will sing the part of John the Evangelist.

The Passion will be sung in its original German; but an English translation of the text will be projected in supertitles scene-by-scene throughout the performance.

MBM is thrilled to be presenting this masterwork in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a  photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society, a space beautifully suited to early music. The sightlines are superb, and the acoustics offer a great balance of clarity, crispness, and spaciousness.

Seating is limited, so advance ticket purchase is suggested.


Classical music: Today is Christmas Day. Here are many hours of classical music to help you celebrate the holiday.

December 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2016.

You may have your own collection of recorded holiday music.

But if you are looking for familiar or especially unfamiliar classical music to help you celebrate the holiday, The Ear has some suggestions as a sort of holiday gift.

There is always the reliable Wisconsin Public Radio and other affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), which will feature holiday music throughout the day. And chances are pretty good that the local community-sponsored alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 will do the same.

But YouTube also is offering some other sources that you can stream while you are opening gifts, eating, mingling, gathering with others for the holiday or just enjoying it by yourself.

Plus the audio sites have timings so you can skip or find specific pieces or event movement within the pieces.

Here are two:

This is a 10-hour compilation that you could stream and play. It includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Franz Schubert and Peter Tchaikovsky among many others:

And here is one of The Ear’s favorites, with over one million hits because it features more than three hours of music with a lot of music of the Italian Baroque, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfrediini and Pietro Locatelli as well as music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla:

Feel free to make other suggestions by leaving a composer, title and links, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

And also feel free to tell us what is piece is your favorite classical music for Christmas and why.

The Ear wants to hear.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 


Classical music: Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) turns 20 and will give three performances of “Bells of Christmas” this coming weekend. Plus, there is a FREE concert of women composers on Friday at noon and a FREE community string quartet concert on Thursday night

December 7, 2016
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ALERT 1: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Sarah Gillespie, French horn, and Susan Gaeddert, piano, in music by women composers: Fanny Hansel, Clara Schumann, Kay Gardner and Andrea Clearfield. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

ALERT 2: The Hunt Quartet, made up of UW-Madison graduate students, will perform a FREE concert at the Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound Street, on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev,  the String Quartet in G Major Op. 77, No. 1, by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Langsamer Satz” (Slow Movement) by Anton Webern.

The string quartet is a joint community outreach project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and is funded by Kato Perlman. It plays at many local schools. For more information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/hunt-quartet/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following information:

It’s the 20th anniversary of Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) and we’re celebrating!

Our Bells of Christmas concerts will feature some best-loved pieces from the past along with exciting new ones that will showcase our ringers’ and soloists’ talents. MACH’s founder and Director Emerita, Susan Udell (below, front center with baton), will be conducting the December concerts to bring an air of fun-filled nostalgia and continuing excellence to our programs.

madison-area-concert-handbells-susan-udell-in-front-center

Performances are on Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (bel0w), 2100 Bristol Street, Middleton. The center adjoins Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC1

There is another performance on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Road, in Monona.

Tickets in advance are $12 for adults and $9 for students 16 and under; and $9 for seniors; at the door, tickets are $15 and $12 respectively.

Advance tickets are available at Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports.

Advance tickets can also be ordered. Go to http://www.madisonhandbells.org

To pay with check or money order, you can order by mail — please print an order form and mail with payment to MACH. Advance ticket prices apply.

Group tickets (10 or more) can be ordered in advance for $10 per person, whether adult, student or senior. These are not available at the door; to order, please print an order form and mail with payment (check or money order)

PROGRAM NOTES

Here are program notes written by Susan Udell:

“The Bells of Christmas” opens with the timely reminder that Christmas is Coming before an array of pieces that unfold the events of Christ’s birth. “Wake, Awake,” a stirring arrangement of Philipp Nicolai’s “Wachet Auf,” is replete with giant chords, flowing passages, and the resonance of bass chimes as the city of Jerusalem is made aware of the Savior’s importance.

Next, an arrangement of the 17th century French tune “Picardy,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” features mysterious random ringing of bells and hand chimes while the melody is intoned. This evolves into a burst of fiery 16th-note passages and a maestoso statement of the tune before subsiding into the sound of silence punctuated by random chimes once more.

A lively Caribbean tune, “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy,” arranged by one of the handbell world’s top composers and arrangers, Hart Morris, gives a change of pace with its syncopation and moments of percussive instruments.

madison-area-concert-handbells-big-bells

The noted English composer John Rutter’s “Angels’ Carol” follows, sung by our favorite guest vocalist from the past, Carrie Ingebritsen, and our own Rachel Bain; their voices blend beautifully with a liquid handbell accompaniment to give the angels’ message from that long-ago night.

Another favorite soloist, Barbara Roberts, takes the leading part in an excerpt from Benedetto Marcello’s sonata for flute that has been combined in a Gigue with “Forest Green”, an alternate tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” A bell tree duet of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” follows, played by MACH members Caitlin Ristow and Karen Paschke.

Then it’s time for an audience sing-along in Christmas Carol Fest III. “How Great Our Joy” closes the first half of the concert with variations on the carol “While By My Sheep” and then another opportunity for the audience to sing as “Joy to the World” affirms the events that occurred in Bethlehem so long ago.

After a brief intermission, renowned handbell composer Cynthia Dobrinski‘s arrangement of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” brings sobering and dramatic music that climaxes in a joyful affirmation that, despite all, God will prevail. Carrie Ingebritsen will help illuminate what the music portrays as she sings the verses accompanied by the bells. (You can hear a sample of Cynthia Dobrinski’s music for handbells in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-area-concert-handbells-playing

An energetic “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” follows, based on tunes by Louis Bourgeois and George Frideric Handel, also arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski. Next, her arrangement of “On Christmas Night All Children Sing” (Sussex Carol) brings us to a light-hearted celebration of the holiday as seen through the eyes of children.

Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s famed “Nutcracker Suite” is then represented as our MACH ringers present a challenging, full-bodied arrangement of its March as transcribed by noted handbell composer William Griffin.

Former MACH member, Janet Rutkowski, returns as handbell soloist for “The Tin Soldier,” an amusing rendition of that well-known tune. Then the ever-popular “Up on the Housetop” details the gifts children anticipate at Christmas and depicts Santa’s arrival, descent of the chimney, and filling of stockings before he departs in a flash of sound.

Our concert concludes with a joyful, foot-stomping “Caroler’s Hoedown,” created and arranged by Valerie Stephenson, who received her graduate degree in composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison many years ago.

We hope you will join our 20th year’s celebration by attending one of our concerts. We will recognize past ringers and Board of Directors members in our programs as a special tribute of thanks for their support over the years.


Classical music: Here are the Top 10 things to know about Handel’s “Messiah.” The Madison Bach Musicians will perform it with period instruments this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

April 4, 2016
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ALERT:  Tomorrow on Tuesday, April 5, there will be two on-air events about the Madison Bach Musicians’ performances of Handel’s “Messiah”: On Wisconsin Public Radio’s Midday program on WERN (88.7 FM) noon-12:30 p.m., MBM director Trevor Stephenson will be Norman Gilliland’s guest. They’ll play and discuss selections from “Messiah.” Then MBM will perform two arias from “Messiah” live on the CBS affiliate WISC-TV Channel 3 “Live at 4” program 4-5 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Bach Musicians will perform the well-known oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below). The performances feature period instruments and historically authentic performances practices.

handel big 3

Here are the details:

FRIDAY: 6:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 7:30 p.m. concert

SUNDAY: 2:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 3:30 p.m. concert

Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below), 1609 University Avenue, Madison, near Camp Randall Stadium.

MBM holiday 2014 singers and instrumentalists JWB

The forces and period instruments MBM has assembled for this event are similar in many respects to those used by Handel in the world premiere of “Messiah” in Dublin in April of 1742.

For more information, including a complete list of performers, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/april-8-10-2016/

The concerts feature an all-baroque orchestra ─ with gut strings, baroque oboes, natural trumpets and calf-skin timpani ─ plus eight internationally-acclaimed soloists, and the Madison Boychoir (part of Madison Youth Choirs), which will collaborate in the “Hallelujah” Chorus and Amen, under the direction of early-music specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), professor of bassoon at the University of Wisocnsin-Maidson School of Music.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Pre-concert lectures at both events will be given by MBM founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who is as entertaining as he is enlightening.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Advance-sale discount tickets are: $33 general, $28 students and seniors (65+). They are available at Orange Tree Imports, Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West)

You can also buy advance sale tickets online at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Tickets at the door are $35 general, $30 students and seniors (65+), Student Rush: $10 on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID required) Visit or call www.madisonbachmusicians.org at 608 238-6092.

To prepare you to appreciate the oratorio, here is Trevor Stephenson’s Top 10 list of things – a la David Letterman — that you should know about it:

TOP 10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HANDEL’S ‘MESSIAH

#10. Its title is “Messiah” not “The Messiah”

#9. Handel, at 56 years of age, wrote Messiah in just 24 days in the late summer of 1741.

#8.  Some of the pieces ─ like “For unto us a child is born” and “All we like sheep” ─ Handel borrowed or adapted from pieces he had composed earlier, usually by laying the new text over the existing musical material. This technique, known as “parody,” was employed by most composers as a way of recycling good musical material.

#7. The original words to the tune we know as “For unto us a child is born” were  (Italian) “No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi, cieco Amor, crudel Beltà” — meaning roughly “No, I won’t trust you, blind Love, cruel Beauty” (Hear the YouTube video at bottom.)

#6. Messiah premiered in 1742 in Dublin, Ireland two weeks after Easter (March 25 that year) on April 13. By uncanny dumb luck, this 2016 period-performance of Messiah by MBM will also take place two weeks after Easter (March 27) on April 8 and 10.

#5. Handel divided this oratorio into three parts. Part I: a world in need of salvation; the promise that salvation is on the way; arrival of the savior in the world; Part II: Christ’s passion and crucifixion, descent to hell and resurrection, beginnings of the church, triumph of truth over death (Hallelujah); Part III: Faith and the world to come; the awakening of all souls (The Trumpet Shall Sound), paean to the Lamb of God; closing, majestic meditation on Amen.

MBM Messiah poster

#4.  In a baroque orchestra the string instruments use gut strings—made from dried and carefully processed sheep intestine. Gut strings assist in the performance of baroque music in two important ways: 1) because gut as a material is very supple, the tone it produces is naturally “warm” in an acoustic/aesthetic sense; therefore, vibrato is not necessary in order to produce a pleasing sound and the player’s attention can focus more on pitch. 2) Gut strings, because they are very textured, produce a natural friction with the hair of the baroque bow which ensures that the instant the player’s bow hand moves the pitch is in the air. This optimizes the sense of directness in performance.

#3. The harpsichord and organ were used as continuo instruments in baroque music. MBM will be using both instruments in the upcoming Messiah performances. 18th-century keyboard tunings were generally of the un-equal/circulating variety known as Well Temperaments, as in “The Well-Tempered Clavier” of Johann Sebastian Bach. In these tunings, every tonality has a unique acoustic color, ranging from the transparently clear and harmonious keys (C major, A minor and other keys near the top of the circle of fifth, unencumbered by accidentals), then shading all the way down to the lugubriously opaque and gnarled keys in the basement of the circle of fifths, like G-flat major and E-flat minor. Notice in Messiah the contrast between the acoustical openness of the initial Sinfonia in E minor (one sharp) and the rigid density of the passion-of-Christ choruses near the beginning of Part II, “Surely, He hath borne our griefs” and “And with His stripes we are healed” both in F minor (four flats). 18th-century temperament will bring such differences into keen relief.

#2. Messiah was very successful and greatly admired in Dublin at its premiere. When Handel led performances of it in London several months later, the reception was much cooler. Nevertheless, from there on the popularity of Messiah grew steadily and it was performed often in Handel’s lifetime under his direction. Though much of Handel’s music was widely published in his lifetime, Messiah was not published until a few years after Handel’s death in 1759.

#1.  In Messiah, the balance between the sense of play and sense of purpose is unrivalled (though a different animal in many ways, a blood brother of Messiah in the movie domain might be The Wizard of Oz). Indeed, it is almost as if in Handel’s world, these two elements — play and purpose — do not oppose, but rather fuel each other. Handel’s descendent in this regard is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose also could consistently fuse melodic joy with harmonic and theatrical pacing, pushing scene after scene ever-higher until it seems the roof opens to the realms of limitless joy.


Classical music: What is your favorite Easter music? There is so much to choose from. Here are two samplers.

March 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday, 2016.

Easter Sunday

You don’t have to be a believer to know that the events of Easter have inspired great classical music, especially in the Baroque era but also in the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Easter lily

Of course, there is the well-known and much-loved oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who wrote it for Easter, not Christmas as is so often assumed because of when it is usually performed. (NOTE: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform “Messiah,” with period instruments and historically informed performance practices, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Friday and Sunday, April 8 and 10.)

There is a lot of instrumental music, including the gloriously brilliant brass music by the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and the darker Rosary sonatas for violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and the “Lamentation” Symphony, with its sampling of familiar tunes and intended to be performed on Good Friday, by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Heinrich Biber

Easter music cuts across all kinds of nationalities, cultures and even religious traditions: Italian, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian, French and Austrian.

But the occasion — the most central event of Christianity — is really celebrated by the huge amount of choral music combined with orchestral music – perhaps because the total effect is so overwhelming and so emotional — that follows and celebrates Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then ultimately to Easter and the Resurrection from death of Jesus Christ.

For The Ear, the pinnacle is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially his cantatas, oratorios and passions.

Bach1

But today The Ear wants to give you a sampler of 16 pieces of great Easter music, complete with audiovisual clips.

Here is one listing that features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Tallis, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Gustav Mahler, Francis Poulenc and James MacMillan:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-classical-music-easter

And here is another listing that features music by Antonio Vivaldi, Hector Berlioz, Gioachino Rossini, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” (rather than his “St. Matthew Passion” or “St. John Passion”) and “The Resurrection” oratorio (other than “Messiah”) by Handel.

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/ten-classical-music-pieces-for-easter.html

Curiously, no list mentions the gorgeous and haunting “Miserere” (below) by Gregorio Allegri. It was traditionally performed in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on the Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week, but was kept a closely guarded secret. Publishing it was forbidden. Then a 12-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it and copied it down from memory.

Finally, The Ear offers his two favorite pieces of Easter music that never fail to move him. They are the passion chorale and final chorus from the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach:

What piece of music is your Easter favorite?

Do you have a different one to suggest that you can leave in the COMMENT section, perhaps with a link to a YouTube video?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Voces Aestatis will perform its second annual concert of 16th-century choral music this coming Friday night.

August 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the choral group Voces Aestatis (below) – which performs early and pre-Baroque music – send word:

Voces Aestatis (pronounced VO-ches Eh-STA-tees) – or Summer Voices — is a professional choir of 16 voices that specializes in choral literature from the Renaissance and earlier.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The choir will present its second annual concert in Madison on this coming Friday night, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew‘s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street. Tickets are $15 at the door.

Director Ben Luedcke (above, far left in front row, and below) has prepared a concert that will feature both sacred and secular works from the 16th century.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) is an intimate and acoustically ideal performance space for this ensemble — which is a highly select group of Madison singers, hand-picked for their vibrant voices, blended tone and experience with early music, particularly the a cappella repertoire of the 16th century.

One of the few professional choirs in Madison, this group of paid singers only rehearses a handful of times, performing once per year.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The first half of the concert will begin and end with double-choir pieces by Jean Mouton, and the master of the polychoral sub-genre, Giovanni Gabrieli. Music by William Byrd (below) and Jean l’Heritier celebrate the glory of God.

William Byrd

Also included are works by Giuseppe Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso (below), with texts taken from the Song of Songs. Though sanctioned in the Old Testament as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church, these biblical passages are infamous for their explicit erotic qualities and have been favorites of choral composers for centuries.

Music of Carlo Gesualdo and Antonio Lotti, with dramatic texts taken from the Tenebrae service of Good Friday round out the first half of the concert.

Orlando di Lasso

The second half features both English and Italian madrigals by Orlando Gibbons, John Bennet, Jacques Arcadelt, and Claudio Monteverdi (below). These highly sensual texts deal with lust as well as death, even questioning the meaning of our short lives.

Monteverdi 2

Video and audio recordings from last year’s concert are available on YouTube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogmeA8EYrW0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQQ-cDhyFao

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vzm2TmSEFjw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuRZ5b3NR6c

Voces Aestatis 2015 poster

 


Classical music: Four “passion” chorales by J.S. Bach are perfect music to mark Easter and Passover. What music would you choose?

April 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend both Easter and Passover are being celebrated.

Perhaps the earliest Easter music I heard was by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the so-called “Passion Chorale” from the St. Matthew Passion.

Back then it seemed perfect music for the occasion.

It still does.

I suspect it always will.

It reaches into your heart and soul like no other music, even if you are not religious.

Bach1

It doesn’t matter whether it is the crucifixion of Jesus or the bondage of the Israelites under the Egyptians, the music suits the occasion of portraying the suffering some people inflict on other people.

That old music seems all the more timely, given the new religious conflicts and religion-based terrorism the world now confronts.

And now along comes a genius-like a cappella setting by Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe (below), who combines four different settings into a single work that is profoundly moving.

philippe herreweghe conbducting

Here it is, at the bottom in a YouTube video.

Listen for the glorious dissonances and the lovely part-singing.

Choral music just doesn’t get better, or more empathetic and compassionate.

Listen to it and tell me what you think.

Also tell us what music you prefer to mark this weekend’s spiritual and religious holidays.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover.


Classical music: On Christmas Day, YOU MUST HEAR THIS – “The Shepherd’s Farewell” chorus from the oratorio “L’Enfance du Christ” by Hector Berlioz.

December 25, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2014.

As this year’s gift, The Ear wants to share something special.

It is a work that usually gets drowned out at Christmas time by more familiar works — from “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “The Nutcracker” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti and the “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

The work I am talking about is the “Shepherd’s Farewell” to the infant Jesus whose family — Virgin Mary and father Joseph — must flee its homeland in face of the death threats posed by King Herod.

It comes from “L’Enfance du Christ” (The Childhood of Jesus) by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). The story goes that he was bored at a dinner party and sketched it out on a linen napkin.

berlioz

True story or not, the music is gloriously beautiful, calm and reassuring — in an appropriately pastoral way. This neglected chorus -– in fact, the whole neglected oratorio — deserves to be a much more integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Maybe in future years, Hector Berlioz’ “L’Enfance du Christ” could be performed, in part or in its entirety, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. It would make a wonderful holiday addition, or even tradition.

Anyway, you listen and you decide.

Then tell us what you think in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

So here is the music, in a YouTube video at the bottom, running just under 5 minutes.

Enjoy.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Classical music: The Rural Musicians Forum offers two FREE but contrasting modern “Magnificats” — by Jonathan Willcocks and Alan Hovhaness — this coming weekend in Spring Green and Plain.

December 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Rural Musicians Forum — which is directed by Kent Mayfield (below) of Milwaukee and which does such a laudable service by bringing classical music to rural areas in south  central Wisconsin — send us the following word about some remarkable performances this coming weekend:

Kent Mayfield  Rural Musicians Forum

“The Rural Musicians Forum welcomes the holiday season with two Advent concerts in early December. Each concert features the ancient text of the “Magnificat” in two dramatically contrasting modern musical settings for orchestra, chorus and soloists.

One performance will be at 7 p.m. on this Friday, Dec. 5, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church (below), at 253 West Washington Street in Spring Green.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The second is at 3 p.m. on this Sunday, Dec. 7 at the basilica-like St. Luke’s Catholic Church (below), at 1240 Nachreiner Avenue, in Plain.

St Luke's Church in Plain

Both concerts will be directed by Gregory Dennis (below), who is widely appreciated around the state for his able choral direction.

Gregory DennisJPG

The concerts are NOT ticketed. A free-will offering will be received. These concerts are underwritten in part by support from the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition, the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair, Kraemer Brothers LLC and generous individual donors.

“The first work is from the British composer, Jonathan Willcocks (below), who is known for a broad range of choral and orchestral music, much of it written for television and film, as well as for King’s College Christmas celebrations.

His “Magnificat” is a melodious, rhythmic and colorful piece, set in five contrasting movements from the Latin with two additional 15th-century texts in praise of the Virgin Mary and interweaves the Latin of the Church with the English of the common people — as if interweaving spiritual and secular themes through the use of two languages.

Jonathan Willcocks 2

“The second setting for the “Magnificat” is strikingly different. Influenced by the sounds and rhythms of the Holy Land, Alan Hovhaness (below) — who is also known as an “American mystic” — captures the mysticism, the beauty and the burning ardor of early Christianity. The result is an experience of intense longing, a declaration of grateful praise and resounding jubilation from voices filled with faith. (You can hear the opening of the Magnificat by Alan Hovhaness in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

alan hovhaness full face

Announcing the concerts, RMF’s Artistic Director Kent Mayfield notes, “In Willcocks, we have vitality and joyful excitement. With Hovhaness, we sense mystery, inspiration and an unforgettable radiant beauty. Each brings an abiding sense of spirituality to an often-secular holiday. Each prompts a stirring emotional response appropriate to the season.”

“‘Two Magnificats: Ancient Texts – Modern Voices’ promises a rich musical experience exploring deeper themes of personal and universal, spiritual and aesthetic meaning in a single holiday celebration.”

“Two performances of “Two Magnificats” are scheduled with full orchestra and featuring soloists soprano Christina Kay (below top), alto Katie Butitta (below second), tenor J. Adam Shelton (below third) and bass Derek Miller (below bottom).

christina kay magnificat

Katie Butitta

J. Adam Shelton

Derek Miller

For more information about the Rural Musicians Forum and its concert series, here is a link:

http://www.ruralmusiciansforum.org

 

 


Classical music: Easter music abounds. The UW Concert Choir and UW Chamber Orchestra convey the strength of Bach’s “St. John Passion,” despite some serious problems. The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor tonight and Saturday night. Plus, the UW Madrigal Singers give FREE concert of Orlando di Lasso on Saturday night.

April 18, 2014
1 Comment

TWO ALERTS

Some perfect music for Easter is on tap this weekend:

Tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., the acclaimed early music and period-instrument group the Madison Bach Musicians, joined by the Madison Choral Project and guests vocal soloists and instrumentalists, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor, first at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and then at the First Unitarian Society of Madison in the new Atrium Auditorium. Both performances feature MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson giving a pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are selling fast. Here is a link to an earlier post with more details about the performances and the music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/classical-music-qa-the-mass-in-b-minor-is-perfect-music-for-easter-it-reconciles-catholicism-and-protestantism-and-is-a-distillation-of-bachs-cantatas-and-passions-says-trevor-stephe/ 

On Saturday night at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW Madrigal Singers, under director Bruce Gladstone, will perform the “Lagrime di San Pietro” (Tears of St. Peter) by Orlando di Lasso (below), one of the greatest composers of the late Renaissance. Completed just weeks before di Lasso died, the “Lagrime” consists of 21 pieces for seven voices; 20 spiritual madrigals in Italian and a concluding motet in Latin. The poetry describes the remorse and anguish Peter suffered after he denied Christ, and though the subject matter is sacred, the emotional content – betrayal, disappointment, remorse and forgiveness – are universally human.

Orlando di Lasso

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Passion According to St. John” occupied the composer Johann Sebastian Bach (below) for over three decades as a work-in-progress, one that he never really completed in definitive form. Yet editors are able to make a workable compromise version of it that allows us to appreciate its dramatic power—very different from the broader, more contemplative character of his “St. Matthew Passion.”

Bach1

Despite the frenzied musical schedule of the weekend of Palm Sunday, this work was an entirely appropriate choice for a performance on last Saturday night by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra (both below), all under the direction of Beverly Taylor.

Concert Choir

UW Chamber Orchestra entire

But there were problems, and they could not be overlooked.

First of all, there was the chorus, 32 singers strong, which made a mighty sound. Nevertheless, choral director and conductor Beverly Taylor (below) followed a doctrine subscribed to by many choral conductors, requiring the breaking up of voice sections and the mixing of the singers. That is supposed to make the singers more self-reliant, and produce a greater overall blend.

But one listener’s “blend” is another listener’s “blob.” For all the sonority, this chorus was an amorphous blob, seriously compromising the part writing over which the composer worked so hard, and undermining sectional definition.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

The orchestra started out a bit roughly, with the winds not precisely in pitch with each other at first, and some coarse string playing. These issues were worked out along the way, but difficulties in balances with the singers were recurrent.

The vocal soloists were mostly young.

Solo soprano Emily Weaver (below top) is only a freshman voice major, but her instrument, still in the making, is bright and full of promise. Joshua Sanders (below middle), who sang a small role and two of the three tenor solos, used his strong voice to bellow a bit. Benjamin Schultz (below bottom), both as Pilate and in one of the three bass solos, was hobbled by pallid tone and not always precise pitch.

Emily Weaver

Joshua Sanders

Benjamin Schultz

Two of the soloists, however, were experienced elders. UW baritone Paul Rowe (below top, in a photo by Michael Anderson), on the UW-Madison School of Music voice faculty, made a dignified and authoritative Jesus, but assigning him two of the bass arias disrupted the portrait he made of Jesus. His wife, soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below bottom), was really stretching her lower range to sing the alto solos: in the first one, her weak sound was almost obliterated by the obligatto oboes, though she did recover somewhat for the potent “Es ist vollbracht,” the gamba accompaniment to which was eloquently brought off by Anna Steinoff. (You can hear the aria at the bottom in a YouTube video with Bernarda Fink and conductor John Eliot Gardiner.) 

The Music of Franz Schubert

Cheryl Rowe color 1

Anna Steinhoff

Perhaps the star of the proceedings, though, was tenor Daniel O’Dea, a doctoral student who is already a seasoned professional singer. He has the high, clear voice ideal for the central role of the Evangelist, only briefly succumbing to temptations to shout excitedly towards the end. I am told that this was the first time O’Dea had sung the part of the Evangelist in any Baroque Passion work, but this kind of role could easily become an important specialty for him. As with Rowe, though, it was a wrenching in this performance to have him shift suddenly from narrator to aria soloist at one point.

Daniel O'Dea

It has not been easy for me to rack up all these criticisms. But I take this venture seriously enough to hold it to the generally high level of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s performing standards. And I should not want it to be excused as “just a student performance.” The truth is that Taylor understood the dramatic character of the piece and brought it together in a propulsive totality that did ultimately put across the work’s beauty and power.

Above all, it was a kind of performing experience that the student participants deserved to have.

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